Farzana Baduel: Resident PR Expert at The Foundry, Oxford University on Protests in the USA, Brexit and Cultural Differences

June 08, 2020 Alex Romanovich
Farzana Baduel: Resident PR Expert at The Foundry, Oxford University on Protests in the USA, Brexit and Cultural Differences
Teaching at Oxford and work with entrepreneurs all over the world
The huge impact of COVID on business operations and communication
The perception of America in the world
The impact of Brexit on the UK and Europe
The polarization of the world
Farzana Baduel: Resident PR Expert at The Foundry, Oxford University on Protests in the USA, Brexit and Cultural Differences
Jun 08, 2020
Alex Romanovich

Farzana Baduel is the founder and CEO of Curzon PR. As a passionate advocate of strategic communications, she champions the power of PR as a dynamic force for building bridges and unifying the world’s voices into a global narrative. Listen to this incredible woman now!

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Farzana Baduel is the founder and CEO of Curzon PR. As a passionate advocate of strategic communications, she champions the power of PR as a dynamic force for building bridges and unifying the world’s voices into a global narrative. Listen to this incredible woman now!

Support the show (

Alex Romanovich (00:00):

Hi, everybody. This is Alex Romanovich. And welcome to GlobalEdgeTalk. Today is June 5th, 2020, and we are delighted and privileged to have Farzana Baduel with us. Hello, Farzana.

Farzana Baduel (00:13):

Hello, Alex.

Alex Romanovich (00:15):

I will tell you a little bit more about Farzana, but all of the talking is going to be done by her. Farzana is the founder and CEO of Curzon PR. She is also a very passionate advocate of multicultural and open strategic communications. She teaches at Oxford University. She is a practitioner of public relations and communications in the UK, but also all over the world. She's traveled all over the place, all over the world, and she is one of the top entrepreneurs in the UK and outside of the UK when it comes to PR communications and so forth. She's also a leader in the Muslim community in PR communications as well.

Alex Romanovich (01:00):

She is a recipient of multiple awards. One of which is the Businesswoman of the Year at the Muslim Awards 2016 and many others. We're very delighted to have Farzana with us. So, Farzana, let's talk a little bit about you of all people. Tell us a little bit about yourself, because GlobalEdgeTalk is about personalities first and foremost. We absolutely love to learn from entrepreneurs, people who are edgy, but also on the edge and have experienced a lot of interesting things in their life and their professional career. Tell us a little bit about your younger years, about your growing up and your passion for PR communications, your passion for what you're doing right now.

Farzana Baduel (01:52):

I was born in London, and London is an incredible city because it is diverse. I mean, you walk down a street in London and you hear a dozen different languages. People you walk past or these groups of people and they look like an advert for the United Nations. I mean, I'm blessed to have been born in a city like London. And because I was born in London, and my parents came from Pakistan, from Kashmir, I immediately was really brought up in terms of my formative years in an incredibly diverse environment where I thought that was the norm. And then only when I would like perhaps leave London to venture out in the shires in the UK or go to another country like say Pakistan or whatever.

Farzana Baduel (02:46):

And then it would strike me, these very homogenous societies. And I remember when I started traveling when I was sort of 10, and I remember thinking, my God, the world is not actually like London. And it was quite incredible when I started traveling and I was noticing that actually you have very homogenous in terms of the culture all these different countries, and the UK and the U.S. are actually quite incredible countries, when you think about the level of diversity that's there. And it's somewhat of a bit of a social experiment because it's really the first time in history that this level of cultural diversity exists in societies. And of course you have positive moments like Obama being elected, and you have sad moments such as what has been happening right now to Black Lives Matter. So I'm not saying it's the utopia, but at least it's a hopeful future that we are working towards and struggling towards. But I think, for me, diversity is intoxicating and I love coming across people from different cultures, different languages, different perspectives. For me, it's literally like a drug. So I've always had that openness ever since I can remember

Alex Romanovich (04:04):

Very interesting. And obviously, being in London or being in New York, you do experience this diversity. And my years working in the multicultural agency, advertising agency, I've experienced the same thing. I was joking sometimes that I'm in there for the food and I absolutely love it. And that's why I love New York and every time I go to London, I experienced the same thing. Tell us more about Oxford. Tell us more about how you got involved with teaching, with training, your work with entrepreneurs, but also your work with a lot of governments in Asia, in Europe, all over the world. That's a very interesting topic.

Farzana Baduel (04:48):

So, the Oxford university, they have an entrepreneurship center, and they allow students undergrads and post-grads who have a business idea to come to the entrepreneurship center and really work upon their idea from conception to startup, to raising finance. And I always used to sort of give the odd lecture on public relations, marketing brand to various different sort of teaching institutions. And I was invited by King's College to do the same, and the lady left King's College entrepreneurship center to set up the one in Oxford and invited me and the entrepreneurship center, the Foundry was actually launched by Tim Cook a couple of years ago. And then they invited me to be their resident public relations expert, which basically means you are on a monthly basis, a few times a month I basically go there and I mentor, I also hold master classes in brand marketing, public relations, and really I work with startups to help them understand what is brand, what is marketing, what is PR, how does it apply to them?

Farzana Baduel (05:51):

It's not just a tool just to use in terms of raising sort of investors and to clean up the investor decks, but actually it is a very integral to their business and their leadership success. And I've been doing it for two years. And I must say, that initially I thought teaching was just going to be one way that I teach them, but, my God, I learned so much more from them than they get from me. And because they are obviously incredibly bright, it actually spurs me to learn more and more about my craft, because I can give them a lecture and there are so many insightful questions that I don't have the answers to. And for the last two years it has been also my learning journey where I'm learning across neuroscience, psychology, the underpinnings of public relations, so that I can teach more effectively and actually keep up with the students because they are incredibly bright and curious minds. And it's wonderful to be able to work with them.

Alex Romanovich (06:48):

I have so many interesting questions to ask you. And I'm looking forward to this. So let's get a little bit more controversial about some of the topics that we're seeing right now. Obviously, we're watching what's happening all over the world with COVID, that's a huge impact on all businesses, on the way they operate, on the way they communicate and so forth. On top of this in the United States we have now situation where the entire country is polarized. The entire country is stressed. The entire country is in chaos, mayhem. I have the words for that. What are your words for this? Tell me.

Farzana Baduel (07:47):

I find it absolutely shocking because I love America and I spent my childhood, and my son is in America. And I always used to be inspired by the African-Americans, because being brought up as a brown girl in a white society in the UK, my sense of pride came from actually listening to their music videos on MTV. And it sounds so silly, but I just thought, my God, these people are so interesting and cool in America, seem so cool. And it's heartbreaking for people like us around the world who look up to America with hope, especially after the Obama years. And it's heartbreaking for us to see America and see how COVID-19 has really opened up these, it almost lifted the curtain on the injustices. And of course we heard about Rodney King and we heard that this is has been happening 400 years, but now with the advent of smartphones it's being captured.

Farzana Baduel (09:00):

And there's a woman, I think, was in New York and she was walking a dog, and an African-American man he confronted her in a very dignified way and she started threatening him, I'm going to call the police, and hyperventilating, and pretending, oh yes, I'd been threatened by a Batman. I was just absolutely shocked. And this was an educated woman, working in finance, so there was like absolutely, it was awful. And then the black man who was jogging and shot dead. And then the police, and we had an issue with the British police with Stephen Lawrence, where justice wasn't served and there was a reaction, but what I see happening in America, frankly, it breaks my heart and I don't understand it because America was meant to be this great hope for the whole world.

Farzana Baduel (09:55):

It was meant to be this, what other country has been built upon mass immigration? This is meant to be our hope. And this is what's happening? And I think obviously when you look at history, there's a pendulum swing, you have Obama that made us all feel so inspired that America is truly a world leader. And we aspire to be a society that allows a minority person to become president and leader of the free world. But then, my God, it had swung just so regressively to Trump. And I think that swing from Obama to Trump. I think, it's really destabilizing for us to know that the world leader America can swing so far.

Alex Romanovich (10:47):

Tell me. You've traveled all over the world. You've dealt with a number of different governments whether it's in Pakistan, or other Asian countries, or Italy, or Spain, or the UK. What do you think, what is the perception of America right now with those governments, with those countries? I'm just curious to understand from your perspective, knowing those people, working with them on the regular basis. How we're being viewed?

Farzana Baduel (11:22):

I think, generally a lot of people, a lot of conversations that I'm party to is the uncertainty that it's difficult to really create long-term plans. When the leadership of America is difficult to predict, you just don't know what he's going to do next. And it's literally, it's almost like actually you're taking a magic mushrooms and you're on a bad trip and you just don't know what's going to happen next, because it's actually surreal. And I don't think the U.S. has ever had this level of leadership. And I think it's made people realize how polarized American society is and how you have the East coast and the West coast. And then you have people thinking, well, the Americans voted for him.

Farzana Baduel (12:16):

There is a chance, significant chance that they'll vote for him again in November. So I think they're beginning to see America as highly polarized, therefore it's very difficult to predict, highly volatile. And also they feel as if they've sort of walked away from the global responsibility, because this is the time where they were meant to sort of really step up and show their leadership. And they have, and obviously, you've had the breakdown between relationship with the WHO and the U.S. And this whole sort of America first, and people only follow leaders if they feel that those leaders care about them. And when you have an America first mantra, who's going to follow, other than just the Americans who have that sort of insular mind. We're in the world that is highly connected.

Farzana Baduel (13:05):

The reason because of the pandemic is because we're highly connected. Our communications are connected. And if you look at, if you read the black swan theory, this is only yet to continue. America cannot isolate itself from the rest of the world. We are all part of one human fabric and with global warming, and climate change and so forth. America cannot address these. They're no longer American problems. They're word problems that need to be addressed globally. And America retreating from its leadership role, it's a huge cause for concern. And then you have, obviously, China, the economic power moving towards the East. So, who's going to take up the leadership role if America isn't? Is it going to be China? I mean, already you're beginning to see a plurality rather than a duality of team China, team America. And countries are going to be falling underneath these two teams.

Farzana Baduel (14:02):

And you're going to probably then end up having parallel supply chains where these countries won't be able to do business or travel with each other, there'll be all sorts of into sanctions. But then even the Western countries are thinking, naturally we will align with America about what are they doing, I mean, do they really share our values? So is it just going to be America alone? And then China, and it's sort of like pro-China partners, and then a third run by Europe. I mean, it's a dark time that we're in.

Alex Romanovich (14:37):

Yeah. It can't be good for business either because I was just talking to somebody in Japan. He is a very well-known investor, a very well-known individual who is investing into co-working facilities. And he just asked me point blank, Alex, we were considering a project in New York City, what's going to happen? So I had to almost defend America as much as I sometimes criticize our behavior and sometimes criticize our cultural intolerances and so forth. I also had to defend our position and say, listen, the real estate is probably going to be in the better position a little bit later, and you may have some better terms and so forth, but this can not be good for business.

Alex Romanovich (15:28):

But let me ask you about this. Let's take BRIC for example, right? Brazil, India, China, Russia, the coalition that did not necessarily work either, or maybe it still has an opportunity to work, but certainly it did not have any movement or any momentum, I should say that was somewhat noticeable, not only that there was talk of currency of switching to different currency, international currency in the way from the dollar. I'm very concerned myself that perhaps now countries will think twice about investing in the currency, investing in the United States businesses, and so forth. But what are your thoughts on those types of coalitions, and whether in the near future it may actually work?

Farzana Baduel (16:23):

I mean, BRIC was a very interesting acronym and sounds very plausible, but the fact is you can't put India and China together, because India and China next door, they've got border disputes. India is aligning itself geopolitically with the U.S. and the West and against China. Pakistan is moving over towards China. So you already have the sort of countries that are forming under their respective teams. And naturally you're going to look, you're going to see obviously the U.S., China, and to a lesser extent India being quite major economic players, and then obviously the EU block. And so just because they're lumped together in an acronym, it doesn't mean that they're going to form coalition as such. And actually India and China is going to be a very interesting relationship to watch in the long-term because there is a natural, they're both growing and they both have some serious issues with each other, and I think that India is going to very much offer itself to the West as a bulwark against China because it's geographical location.

Farzana Baduel (17:35):

And I think, potentially what you're going to see is you're going to see a future of where at the moment you see the U.S. polarized, but I think you're going to see the world polarized. You're going to see two camps, and it's going to be very much like if you play with the Chinese - you don't play with us, and vice versa. And you have countries already who are very much like, we'll take the Chinese, we'll follow the Chinese, because the Chinese are giving money in terms of their infrastructure and so forth. So, the U.S. now has competition. It has another country that is rich enough to go around the world and offer incentives to the various different governments to say, play by our rules. It's going to be an interesting decade. And the EU still has issues. They are now 27 countries after the UK leaves. So they still have their own internal issues of how to really be united. And so they've got their own internal issues. So it's difficult for them to really take a lead on the world stage. So what you're left with is really the U.S. and China.

Alex Romanovich (18:43):

Let's talk about the UK for a moment. I know with COVID, and now the issues in the United States, we completely forgot about Brexit, right? But nevertheless, that's still a topic, that's still a very important topic and not just for the UK itself, but also for the world economy. We're seeing some of the issues that we have now in China, also in Hong Kong as it impacts the economy, as it impacts the economic. I wouldn't call it fallout, but certainly hack up, certainly a dent. So where is the UK now in terms of Brexit, in terms of economic position and what does it mean for the UK businesses, what does it mean for your business, for example, what does it mean for the entrepreneurs that are trying to raise money all over the world and Europe, European relations? Tell us more about that.

Farzana Baduel (19:47):

Well, obviously from an investment perspective the UK has always been an attractive destination, mainly because of its global appeal. And it sort of soft power on the back of English being a widely spoken country and people having a sense of cultural affinity and familiarity with the UK. What's happened, I think in terms of Brexit is you have two types of investors. You have the type of investor that are very risk averse. And so when they see uncertainty, be it Brexit, political turmoil, albeit the COVID pandemic, they actually freeze investments. And then you have another type of investor that's more opportunistic, that actually has an appetite for risk, and they actually started looking for opportunities. And so when Brexit was announced, you had a lot of international money floating around, sniffing the property market for will Brexit result in a temporary reduction in property prices that we can plow our money in with knowing that the UK and especially London is resilient and will therefore come back again.

Farzana Baduel (20:50):

And so you've got sort of different sort of investment approaches. I think with Brexit the country was absolutely obsessed for a number of years on Brexit in the run-up to the referendum after the referendum. And then when finally nation decided that it is going to go ahead. I think the combination of COVID and Brexit is a bad combination for the economy for the UK. The UK has announced a number of economic stimulus. I think there's a huge concern of how the hell are we going to pay this back. And we don't want to depress the economy by then raising taxes. So perhaps what you may see is more targeted taxes, sort of wealth focused taxes, maybe mentioned taxes will come up again.

Farzana Baduel (21:38):

And then also a lot of people are calling for treat this debt, almost like more time reparations, where it will be paid off across decades to minimize the impact. And I think that is the issue. And I think the present government at the moment are probably concerned that at some point there's going to be a review, and why has the UK got one of the largest numbers in terms of infections and death rate per capita. So I think they're politically worried as well about their own sort of legacy. So there's a lot of issues at play, but London, London itself is different than the rest of the UK. It does have a global appeal for multiple factors, including schools, quality of life, rule of law, property as an asset class, and diversity. People feel, people come from all over the world here and within a year they say, I feel at home.

Alex Romanovich (22:43):

What's amazing is that I was taking as a matter of fact, it was after you and I met in London. And then a couple of days later, I was flying back and the taxi driver, the cab driver who was, I think, it was maybe Uber driver who was picking me up. And he was from Pakistan as well. And we started chatting and I was curious to learn more about his life here in London and the community. And we just had a really, really wonderful conversation. I always love to talk to cab drivers and Uber drivers and so forth, always did just some amazing life stories and just stories in general. And he said something very similar to that, with all the issues, all the problems that we have in the UK, I understand Brexit, I understand the desire to be strong, independent, and so forth and so on. But I also understand the importance of being part of the global economic community, obviously being close to Europe as well. And also the quality of life, the diversity, I feel at home, I feel more at home here that I feel in Pakistan.

Farzana Baduel (23:57):

And it kind of struck me because it is very true about some of the other cities, including the city-states like Hong Kong, New York City, to certain extent some of the European cities, Amsterdam, every time I go there, I almost feel like I've never left New York and some of the other ones. So with everything that, with all that understanding and all that diversity, and commonalities and so forth, how is it that we have so much difference in the middle of the countries, right? With the UK so much polarization, in the United States look at the opposition, look at the opposite sides where we're almost divided by the middle or in the middle, I should say, equally divided, right? Half of the country. So things are so polarized. Why is that? What is your opinion of that?

Farzana Baduel (25:01):

I think it's because familiarity breeds affinity. And what I mean by that is if you are in physical close proximity with other races, and you become friends with them, you go to school with them, you date them, you do business with them, you go out and have a meal with them. You understand each other's cultures, it breeds an affinity. And I think if you do not interact with them, then it breedsm, it's a great breeding ground for racism and prejudice. And I married Italian Catholic, incredibly posh, privileged guy, totally opposite to me. I sort of came into the marriage with the middlebox of mangoes and, we were so different. He was incredibly wealthy, I wasn't. He's white, I'm brown. He's Catholic, I'm Muslim. I mean, completely different. But it was the fact that London is such a melting point that actually when you get to know each other, and you can overcome socioeconomic barriers, gender barriers, sexual orientation barriers, and I think one has to make an effort to be familiar because you can also live in cities like London and New York.

Farzana Baduel (26:16):

And although you're surrounded by people from other cultures and socioeconomic groups, you make zero effort and you end up actually in your little cocoon, only making friends with people who are similar to, you going on social media and the algorithms reinforced that you only follow people who have similar sort of thinking patterns. So you have to actively be conscious of ensuring that you really do immerse yourself with diversity of people across, not just race, and gender, and socioeconomic, but diversity of thought. I mean, I make conservative, but I like to read the Guardian, I like to read the Russia Today, I like to read the State News of Iran. I want to know global perspectives, even if they are in direct opposition to the core beliefs that I have, I want to learn. I want to understand. And as we perhaps get older, we sometimes almost form a wall around us.

Farzana Baduel (27:13):

And we walk around with a little filter bubble in our brain, social media makes it worse algorithms, and Netflix make it worse. It's like, oh, you like this documentary, here's a hundred more that you can watch. It has the exact same political leaning. It just reinforces the brain. So I think the more as human beings we understand how the brain works - the more we can understand how we can be manipulated into thought tribes and reinforce those thoughts. And we should therefore understand the tools and strategies to break out of those. And to really take the opportunity of living in diverse communities, to really evolve our brains.

Alex Romanovich (27:52):

I guess I'll ask you another question. And first of all, it's a privilege and a pleasure to talk to you today. And so many listeners will enjoy this conversation, but the question I have for you is what is your advice to a young girl or a boy for that matter who are entrepreneurial, but they may be in Pakistan, they may be in Ukraine, they may be in Africa some place, they may be in Dubai, China, what have you? I mean, look at you, you came from modest beginnings, from you've built a business, you're in the middle of the melting pot, London itself, you have been successful with a lot of very amazing projects all over the world. This is a tough act to follow for somebody, or is there a formula for somebody to pursue this and to become successful? Tell us.

Farzana Baduel (29:05):

I think a lot of it was actually down to the fact that my parents were educated. My mother came from quite a powerful family in Pakistan. Both my parents were entrepreneurs, they had their own businesses, they started them young. So I think that I'm not that classic success story. I pretty much just observed my parents and soaked it all up, and like a robot I actually just did exactly what they did. I think the true heroes of our society are the ones that didn't have those role models in their family. And they had a inner voice that drove them. So I wouldn't consider myself a success story. I just continued on the shoulders of my parents, and my mother especially came from a privileged background, my father didn't, but the way I was brought up was a very middle-class background, mother working professional and so forth.

Farzana Baduel (30:10):

And I think for those people who don't have those role models, who then succeed, I think they are incredible. What I did have when I was growing up is I sought out people that inspired me who had built businesses by just reading everything about them. And I think if you don't have positive role models in your life, the beauty about the internet is actually you can find people even if it means following them on LinkedIn, Instagram, podcasts, you can develop almost, there's one way you can develop an emotional relationship with a thought leader in your industry and consume everything there is, because there's so much content. So I think the opportunity is that there is a lot of information there. And just, I think, if you don't have the role models in your life, I was fortunate to have them, is to find the digital equivalents and follow them online, has the aspiration.

Farzana Baduel (31:12):

And I think most importantly is not to be scared of failure. I think particularly for women, I mean, I'm in my 40s, it took me decades to really unravel the social conditioning of being a nice girl, being polite. I'm now a bit of a pushy nightmare. But it took me a long time. I mean, it took me from 20 to 40, 20 years to just be conscious of all these layers and layers of conditioning that society has just from agenda perspective, let alone the race perspective. So I think, there's a lot of invisible forces and it takes decades to unravel them and understand them. And when you do, at our level, it's important to then mentor and give back, because whatever my parents were, they didn't really, they weren't born and brought up in this country, which is a very different experience than, I mean, they had a hard life. They came here when people would, my father used to walk down the street and there was signs that said, no Irish, no dogs, no Pakies. And he said, that was the norm. And I said, how did you react to it? And he said, oh, that's easy, I just worked twice as hard and expected half as much. Whereas, I think our generation, we expect the quality and we fight for it. And I'm really proud of the people who are protesting around the world.

Alex Romanovich (32:40):

Farzana, thank you so much. I'm very inspired by you. I am very enamored by you. And I think a lot of our listeners will, if not all of them, will feel the same way. Very inspiring your passion shows. And it's a lot of hard work, the formula is that there's a lot of hard work that's involved, whether you trying to assimilate or you're trying to adapt. And in many cases you have no choice, but to adapt, right? That's what makes immigrants so powerful, or people who were born in immigrant families. I'm an immigrant myself and I had to go through the similar type of experiences here in the United States, but thank you for you being our guest. And we're wishing you all the best , and it's a pleasure of being with you.

Farzana Baduel (33:34):

Great. Thank you so much, Alex, for having me, I really enjoyed the conversation.


Teaching at Oxford and work with entrepreneurs all over the world
The huge impact of COVID on business operations and communication
The perception of America in the world
The impact of Brexit on the UK and Europe
The polarization of the world